The ultra-rich

This week, the ultra-rich are making headlines for how they’ve gone about spending the billions that they’ve made over the pandemic. Many of them have purchased superyachts, driving sales for the mega-ships to record-highs in 2021. Jeff Bezos, the world’s most notorious superyacht customer, has a new ship, Y721, that is so large that a historic bridge in the Netherlands will have to be temporarily dismantled in order to let it pass.

But billionaires aren’t just buying yachts – they’re buying politicians as well. Billionaires have spent generously this cycle, particularly through SuperPACS, in hopes of shaping future legislation. Politicians like Senators Manchin and Sinema may not be up for re-election, but they have nonetheless attracted billionaire backing by successfully roadblocking President Biden’s legislative agenda. (Patriotic Millionaires)

My comment: And the above is written by a millionaire, which shows that some of them are civilized, caring people.


The US economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs will have some effect, but unfortunately probably won’t go far enough to stop Putin in his tracks. Most of the richest Russians – like Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov – who famously hold assets in the West will go largely unaffected by sanctions. Most oligarch wealth (both Russian and otherwise) is held offshore in tax haven countries more protected from government intervention.

By one estimate, Russian oligarchs have stashed more than $800 billion of their wealth in countries like the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Cyprus, meaning these sanctions have many of the same limitations of modern tax enforcement – we can’t get to their money without further international cooperation. (Patriotic Millionaires 5 March 2022)

My comment: Moral- being a petty thief is pointless and liable to end in prison. For the freedom to bribe your way through life, become an oligarch (if you survive without other, jealous crooks doing away with you). Me, I can’t understand why anyone wants or feels they need billions or the thought processes of the outrageous crook while amassing them.

I had to read this twice. Where do these people come from?

The mayor of Hudson, Ohio, has resigned after warning that allowing ice fishing on a local lake could lead to prostitution. Mayor Craig Schubert, 65, told the City Council that authorizing “ice shanties” could lead to an “unintended consequence”—shacks built for sex work. In resigning, Schubert said his concern was “based on my prior television news-reporting experience.” (The Week, Feb 25, 2022)

My comment: The US seems to generate more crazy stories (or crazy people stories) than anywhere else on the planet. Could it be the diet?

Good grammar not vital for stories?

Education experts have found that grammar lessons may help children construct sentences, but not their ability to write stories. The team behind the study, which is believed to be the first of its kind, told The Times that their findings challenged the idea that primary school children should be taught about grammatical constructs such as subordinate clauses, adverbials and modal verbs.

The Department for Education is not planning to drop grammar from the curriculum any time soon: a spokesperson told the paper that “good grammar is central to achieving our target”. (The Week, 2 March 2022)

My comment: “Education experts have found that grammar lessons may help children construct sentences, but not their ability to write stories.” Dear, oh dear! Yes, fellas, constructing stories is rather important, I would suggest. Does it help the imagination? Not much, but that is a totally different thing. A good story is built out of an imaginative brain. Grammar is the scaffolding.

The boys are not all right, part 2

The reasons: –
1. The manufacturing sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 2000. Traditionally, more than two-thirds of manufacturing workers are men.

2. Research shows that one significant factor women look for in a partner is a steady job. As men’s unemployment has risen so their romantic prospects have declined. Between 1960 to 2010 adults without a college degree who marry plummeted from about 70% to about 45%.

3. Many boys are being brought up by their mothers only, and are thus deprived, for better or worse, of a male to look up to and emulate.

4. Boys now go to college at lower rates that women, and unsurprisingly, earn less when they seek jobs. All too many seem nihilistic, depressed, unfocused, and feel failures before they have even started.

Comment: my old college, once accepting young men only, now has a majority of women students, and very articulate and confident they seem to be. (2 Mar 2022)

The boys are not all right, part 1

The following is part 1 of a précis of an article in the Washington Post of February 9:

“The data are clear. Boys are more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); are five times as likely to spend time in juvenile detention, and are less likely to finish high school.

It doesn’t get better when boys become adults. Men now make up only 40.5% of college students. Male community college enrollment declined by 14.7% in 2020 alone, compared with 6.8% for women. Median wages for men have declined since 1990 in real terms. Roughly one third of men are either unemployed or out of the workforce. More US men aged 18 to 34 are now living with their parents than with romantic partners.

Tomorrow: Why has this happened?

Punishing Russia

Having ruled out the direct use of military force, the U.S. and its allies now must decide how to respond to this flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. One tool among many that should be considered is to attempt to strip Russia of its seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Russia sits in one of the five permanent seats on the Security Council, and in theory could veto such a move, as well as block any attempt by the General Assembly to remove Russia from the UN altogether. But there has always been some question about the legal process by which the USSR’s seat was transferred to Russia after the Soviet Union’s collapse. The constituent republics of the USSR declared in 1991 that the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and with it should have gone the legal right of any of those entities, including Russia, to sit on the Council.

Nor was there a formal process to admit Russia into the U.N. after the USSR’s demise. The Security Council seat was granted via a decision from the UN’s legal counsel with no action requested from the General Assembly. That edict could be revoked, and the U.S. could demand a vote in the General Assembly on Russia’s Security Council membership. Would such a maneuver save Kyiv? No, but Moscow must be besieged on all fronts if there is any hope of rescuing Ukrainians from a Russian occupation. The worst crisis in post-war Europe demands nothing less than concerted, dramatic action aimed at Moscow’s total isolation, and the time to start is now. (The Week, 25 Feb 2022)

Comment: Fearsome backlash! The European Broadcasting Union announced Friday that “no Russian act will participate” in the annual song competition in light of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The announcement said this decision was made after a recommendation from the Eurovision Song Contest’s governing body and Reference Group.

“The decision reflects concern that, in light of the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine, the inclusion of a Russian entry in this year’s contest would bring the competition into disrepute,” the EBU said. “Before making this decision the EBU took time to consult widely among its membership.”

Putin is reportedly shaken and deeply disturbed by this response.

Further comment: the above is acknowledged to be political (no-go for Epicureans!) but what Putin is doing is seriously disturbing to the peace of mind of millions, not to mention their lives. This, in my opinion, deserves Epicurean attention.


Many years ago I was fortunate enough to have a college tutor who was an expert on Russian history. I spent many hours under his guidance. My knowledge has dimmed since then as I have concentrated on things like washing the dishes and putting out the trash for collection, but what I do know is that Putin’s long ramble about Russian history, “justifying” his assault on Ukraine, was riddled with straight lies and distortions. Let no one believe the monster.

Too tender by half

Georgetown Law students recently requested a designated place to “break down and cry” after a lecturer questioned why President Biden has vowed to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. In a meeting with the school’s dean, Black students said the suspension of lecturer Ilya Shapiro was insufficient, and that “reparations should include a crying center”.

My comment: These are law students who might well, and quite soon, appear in a Court of Law to partake in the trial of a rapist, a murderer or other violent lawbreaker. How will the late students cope? Burst into tears at the cross-examination, or maybe faint when the details are revéaled. Poor didums! I suggest they chose the wrong course at Georgetown. They should change prospective careers – what about pre-school teaching? First year?

More crooked banking

Thanks to a complex publishing exercise by the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde and other newspapers in Europe and around the world, a huge data leak has shed light on the owners of £80bn held in thousands of accounts in one of Switzerland’s foremost banks, Credit Suisse. They include people involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering and other serious crimes. They include kleptocrats spiriting their wealth away from the people they supposedly serve.

Why did the bank give such individuals a place to hide their cash? Credit Suisse says the information published from the leak is selective and not a fair representation of its current business conduct. (oh, really? Ed)

Nonetheless, the story highlights one of the most glaring problems in the world today: the ease with which vast sums can be diverted by corrupt individuals away from societies that desperately need the wealth. Financial crime is a serious issue of global public interest. When it involves corruption in the developing world, the impact on the planet’s poorest people can be profound.

Deciding to publish these stories was a balancing exercise. On one side: personal issues of privacy, confidentiality and data protection. On the other: the public’s right to know about wrongdoing. And our duty to reveal it. Our previous reporting on offshore secrecy – the HSBC files, the Panama, Paradise and Pandora Papers – has spurred global action in favour of fairer, more open banking. This investigation looks like it will have significant impact too.

Investigations like these are always risky, because of the feathers they ruffle. But on this occasion, there was an additional hazard to consider: any journalist who falls foul of Switzerland’s renowned 1934 banking secrecy law risks a five-year prison sentence.

About five years ago, Switzerland broadened its banking secrecy law so that it applies not just to bankers but to anyone who may have access to bank data and who shares it. Journalists fall into that category. For this reason, The Guardian has no media collaborators (on this project) in Switzerland. The risk was considered too high (imagine if the biggest story to hit your country in years came out – and none of the domestic newspapers felt they could cover it!)

“The Swiss press are enraged that this is a huge story and no Swiss publication has been able to be part of it,” Paul said. “Opposition leaders are already calling for reform of banking secrecy laws.”

Fortunately Swiss readers can – and are – reading the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Le Monde today. The truth will out. (The Guardian 22 Feb 2022)

My comment: I fear that this type of corruption has too many (paid-off) supporters in high places. Bravo and thanks to the brave newspapers, doing their job of uncovering crooked dealing. Epicurus would approve. But it’s a dangerous kind of life the journalists are leading, bless them.

Gerrymandering the vote

“55 million Americans live in states that restricted their voting rights last year. And we know more harmful laws are coming this year that will threaten the stability of our election system. We need a federal response.

The comprehensive Freedom to Vote Act has provisions that would improve election administration, election security, redistricting, campaign finance rules, as well as establish a new Office of State Democracy Promotion. The legislation would protect voting rights by requiring automatic voter registration, increasing voting access for people with disabilities, and lowering wait times at the polls.

Without voting access for all and thoughtful election reform, the promise of our democracy remains unfulfilled”. (Rachel Deitch, The Humanist, Feb 2022).

My comment: The undermining of universal voting rights in a country once regarded as the modern beacon of democracy is utterly shameful, reminding me of one or two boys at school who, if they couldn’t win at something shamelessly cheated, and regrettably got away with it with confident arrogance, having convinced themselves and those around them of their general “superiority” of character and intentions. Drove me crazy, but I fear that this posture can begin early in life and is seldom effectively checked by adults, who are lazy, just want peace and quiet or are scared of fight-back.

It has to be a joke

News from London

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lord Frost’s spiritual successor in his new role as minister for Brexit opportunities, has a novel approach. He told the Sun last week that he is bypassing the civil service to ask if anyone else in the country has any ideas about “Brexit benefits”. Sun readers are invited to write to him with suggestions and he will see what can be done. But that too is revealing. One of the first tests officials apply to new ministers is to ask if they know what they want and to assess whether they have the ability to communicate that to them.

I am afraid that Rees-Mogg has not passed this test, which is all the more surprising as he had plenty of time lounging on the government frontbench, listening to suggestions from Brexit-supporting Tory MPs. (The Guardian, 15 Feb 2022)

My comment: Brexit was always going to be a confidence trick. Bypassing the civil service to ask if anyone else in the country has any ideas about Brexit benefits? Incredible!

The bankruptcy of ideas so soon after the fact of EU exit makes the ridiculous situation even more laughable. Huge damage has been done to the reputation of Britain, solely to appease the little Englanders. Ask Sun readers for ideas? You have to be joking. For non-British readers: The Sun is a propaganda vehicle for backwoodsmen and oglers of scantily dressed young women. That’s fine, if you have the inclination, but you can’t run a country based on prurient interest in half-clad teenagers. It will be fun seeing what the readers come up with!

Touching on ancient Epicureanism

In answer to a reader who, some while ago, sought a feel for daily life among the ancient Epicureans: There are so. any aspects of life about which we are ignorant. But we *do* know that Epicureans did not pool their assets all together, in any communal fashion, as other philosophical groups actually *did*; the argument was that such a practice would either indicate or, worse yet, foster mutual suspicion.
It is hard to define such terms as “job” in the context of the ancient world; “Old Money”, Athenian patricians –men only, of course– were landed gentry, and looked down on the dirty business of actually *making* money; many (most?) members of the large, mercantile class were “metoikoi”, i.e. resident-aliens, Greeks usually, but non-Athenians, who had significant monetary/economic power but no political, citizen rights; craftsmen and artisans were yet a rung lower; farmers, lowest of all.
The short version of my answer is a call to caution, lest we seek to superimpose *present*-day concepts on a socioeconomic reality long, long gone.
It is also difficult, if not impossible to impute our modern sense of “tuition” in Greek antiquity. Suffice it to say that teachers of all sorts (philosophers, sophists, etc.) *did* customarily receive some sort of payment or other “for services rendered”. There appears to be some evidence that Epicurus was somehow “paid”, albeit probably very modestly, and that he disposed of his modest possessions with generorosity both prodigious and judicious. After all, he was totally committed to making do with less than most other people.
It is hard to imagine what “normal jobs” other Epicureans would/could have had: Athenian women were notoriously under their husbands’ thumbs. Paradoxically, the permissive Athenians were scandalized by the hyper-macho, militarist Spartans, whose society they (the Athenians) derided as “gynekokratia” , i.e. Women’s Rule: with men in the barracks from the cradle to the grave, Spartan women took care of just about everything in that city’s everyday life. But Athenian women were tightly tethered, and domesticated to a fault. The only notable exception would have been prostitutes, and we do know that Epicurus allowed *those* in his microcosm, much to the shock and disapproval of everyone else in his society at large.
Slaves were a special case, and one particularly hard to fathom, due to lack of documentation: some were modestly “educated”, although of course not in the fullness of the liberal arts, reserved for free-born citizens alone; they may have caught a glimpse of reading/writing skills, looking over their masters’ shoulders. Epicurus’ reliance on rote memorization may have had a practical tie-in with the low level of literacy anywhere below the upper crust of Athenian society.
It is plausible that the Garden was more a *meeting* place than some sort of a “full-time residence”. Again, Athenians were (and we still are! 😉 notoriously outgoing: early in the 20th (!) century, a literary tourist wrote that “these people are like cats in midsummer”, always strolling about, stopping to chat with whoever might have been in the Agora (still extant, albeit in ruins), spending the bare minimum of time in their *own* houses. I get the strong impression that “home” for ancient Athenians meant little more than “a place to sleep”. Free-born Athenian men were the quintessential roaming tomcats; domesticity, and love thereof, is distinctly a *Roman* sentiment.